Brewing up a storm: Tetley tea

After successfully introducing the tea bag to Britain, Tetley grew to lead the market.

In 1837, Joseph Tetley (1811 -1899) and his brother Edward began to sell salt from a horse and cart in Bradford, Yorkshire. Before long, tea was added to their wares.

By 1851 the business had relocated to Huddersfield, and employed 14 people. In 1856 the Tetley brothers moved to 25 Cullum Street in London, close to the tea auction houses of Mincing Lane. In 1861 the business employed 18 people.

In 1865 Edward left the business. Joseph brought in Joseph Ackland as a partner and the business traded as Joseph Tetley & Co.

In 1871 Joseph took on his son, Joseph Tetley Jr (1850 – 1935) and long-term employee Samuel Furniss as partners in the business. Tetley & Co also expanded into blending and packaging tea for itself.

In 1880 Ackland and Furniss had their stakes in the partnership bought out by Joseph Tetley and his son. By this time its premises were at 31 Fenchurch Street. In 1888 the company established a sales agency in America.

Joseph Tetley & Sons was incorporated as public company in 1907, and as a private company a year later. By this time the company was a leading London wholesale tea dealer. By 1913 the American business had substantially expanded, and a subsidiary company was established in New York.

Joseph Tetley Jr died in 1935, with an estate valued at £75,000 (equivalent to £29.5 million in 2015). His nephew, William Tetley-Jones took over the company, but died just a few months later. The company was inherited by his son, Tetley Ironside Tetley-Jones (1912 – 1990).

In 1939 Tetley-Jones visited America where he encountered the growing popularity of the tea bag, as opposed to brewing with loose tea leaves. He pioneered mass production of the tea bag in Britain from 1940. Initially production was for export only, due to rationing in Britain.

In 1941 the London premises were damaged during the Blitz, and a new production facility was opened at Bletchley in Buckinghamshire. By this time the head office was at Mansell Street, still close to Mincing Lane.

In 1951 the company was converted back into a public company, with a share capital of £410,000 (£50.7 million in 2015). Net assets were valued at just under £600,000 (£74 million in 2015).

The end of rationing allowed Tetley-Jones to introduce the tea bag to the British consumer in 1953. Tetley-Jones spearheaded the initiative, and had to fight the scepticism of his board of directors. The head tea buyer for Brooke Bond, the largest tea company in the world, announced that his company would never produce tea bags, which he believed imparted the taste of paper to the product.

In 1958 the Bletchley plant was sold off, and all production was centered at a new factory at Eaglescliffe in County Durham. The same year, a new factory was opened at Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Total company capital rose to £750,000 (£58 million in 2015).

Tetley-Jones believed that the company was too small to compete against larger companies such as Brooke Bond, and had been searching for a buyer for years. In 1961 Tetley & Co was acquired by Beech-Nut Life Savers of New York for £2.3 million in cash (£148 million in 2015). Whilst a leader in the small UK tea bag market, most company profits came from the American subsidiary.

Beech-Nut Life Savers provided the capital necessary for expansion of production and marketing of the tea bags. By 1964 tea bags had taken five percent of the British tea market, and all of production belonged to Tetley. It was only that year that the major tea packers introduced their own tea bags.

Tetley tea bag sales grew 58 percent to the catering trade, and by 41 percent to the domestic trade in 1965. The company was exporting millions of tea bags every year.

Tetley tea bag sales rose 63 percent to a total of two billion bags in 1967. Tetley held two thirds of the retail market for tea bags, and 50 percent of the catering market.

In 1968 Tetley sold 5,000 tonnes of tea bags. By 1969 Tetley had 65 percent of the British tea bag market.

In 1973, J Lyons, the British catering giant, and a major tea producer itself, acquired Tetley for £23 million (£524 million in 2015).

The “Tetley tea folk “advertising campaign was launched in 1973. Tetley introduced the round tea bag in 1989. In 2000 Tetley was acquired by Tata, an Indian conglomerate, for £271 million.

Tetley is the third highest selling tea brand in Britain, with a 16 percent market share as of 2016.

Note: all current day wealth calculations are measured as a percentage of GDP, and are taken from measuringworth.com

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